LOS ANGELES, CA — It’s a Hollywood murder mystery that has gone unsolved for over 70 years: On October 12, 1944, Georgette Bauerdorf, a 20-year-old oil heiress and volunteer hostess at the Hollywood Canteen, was brutally raped and murdered in her Los Angeles apartment.
Cleaning staff discovered her the next morning, naked from the waist down, floating face down in her bathtub with the water still running. She had been strangled to death by someone who police believed was lying in wait for her — but her murderer has never been caught.
Investigators attempted to piece together a timeline of what happened the night that Bauerdorf, who was young, rich, and beautiful, and appeared to have the world at her feet, was murdered.
On October 11, 1944, newspaper reports indicate that Bauerdorf ate lunch and later went shopping with her father’s secretary Rose L. Gilbert, who reportedly told police that Bauerdorf was in good spirits. Bauerdorf left the Hollywood Canteen at around 11:15 P.M. and may have gone directly home.
A neighbor, who requested anonymity, told police he was awakened by screams around 2:30 A.M, followed by a female voice yelling “Stop, stop, you’re killing me!” Believing that the argument was a domestic dispute, he went back to bed.
Fred Atwood, the janitor who found her body, told deputies that on the night of October 11 he heard a woman’s heels clicking back and forth on the floor, followed by a loud crash — but could not confirm that there had been a second person in the apartment.
There were other clues: Police revealed that an automatic night light over the outside entrance of the apartment had been unscrewed two turns so that it would not go on, and fingerprints were found on the bulb.
Investigators also found an empty string bean can and some melon rinds in the kitchen waste basket. Examination of her stomach revealed that she had eaten string beans about an hour before her death.
The primary motive did not appear to be robbery: Almost $100 was taken from her purse, but her jewelry and other valuables were left untouched, including a large roll of $2 bills and thousands of dollars worth of sterling silver lying in an open trunk.
The1936 Pontiac coupe that Baeurdorf drove — which was registered in the name of her sister Connie Bauerdorf — was missing and later found abandoned on East 25th St. in Los Angeles, where it had apparently run out of gas.
A forensic examination of her body revealed that Bauerdorf had been raped, and the knuckles on Bauerdorf’s right hand were smashed and bruised, indicating that she had put up a fight. She had been strangled with a piece of bandage material stuffed down her throat, and her right thigh showed the bruised imprint of a hand with fingernail marks piercing the skin.
Georgette Bauerdorf was born in New York City, and grew up living a life of wealth and privilege.
She aspired to be an actress, and moved to Hollywood in August 1944 where she took a job working as a junior hostess at the Hollywood Canteen. One of her duties was dancing with enlisted men, and she reportedly had several suitors.
Army authorities joined with the Sheriff’s Department in a search for clues, and investigators questioned several sailors that were mentioned in Bauerdorf’s datebook — including a particular soldier who was rumored to have been infatuated with her. According to police, he was later cleared.
June Ziegler, who was at the canteen on the night prior to the murder, told detectives that Bauerdorf dated a six-foot-four serviceman less than a month before her murder. According to Ziegler, Bauerdorf remarked that the tall soldier was enamored of her, but she did not return his affections.
Police got another lead when they learned that the day before her death, Bauerdorf cashed a $175 check and purchased an airline ticket to El Paso, Texas, for $90 after telling friends that she was going to meet her soldier boyfriend.
On October 11, Pvt. Jerome M. Brown, an antiaircraft artillery trainee from Fort Bliss, was identified by authorities as the man Bauerdorf was going to visit. Brown told Army officials he met Bauerdorf at the Hollywood Canteen on the night of June 13, and that he had received several letters from her since then.
The Spanish-style apartment where Bauerdorf lived, El Palacio on 8493 Fountain Avenue in West Hollywood, has seen its share of tragedies over the years. Marilyn Monroe lived in the apartment at one point, and Dorothy Dandridge died in the same residence after reportedly overdosing on barbiturates in 1965. In 2007, Lindsay Lohan, who has an obsession with Marilyn Monroe and other doomed Hollywood starlets, purchased the same apartment.
Some people associate Georgette’s death with that of Elizabeth Short, aka “the Black Dahlia,” theorizing that the same man murdered the two dark-haired young women, who were both in Hollywood during the same time period, seeking their fortunes. Both women were also known to have dated multiple soldiers — although that was not unusual for attractive young women in the 1940s.
But until a perpetrator is caught, what happened that night in West Hollywood remains a mystery.
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Main photo: Georgette Bauerdorf [Wikimedia Commons]